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Meet Joe Ehrenberger of Adaptation Environmental Services

Today we’d like to introduce you to Joe Ehrenberger.

Joe, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I went into business kicking and screaming…well not exactly, but I wasn’t looking to start a business. The State needed me to be a contractor focused on determining some of the best wildlife habitats across three million acres. There were fantastic intentions from the project’s design despite flawed assumptions for its success. However, I needed work and this was a tremendous opportunity in one of the country’s most beautiful states. Over the next two years, I drove everywhere from remote ranches in the northwest to the southeast looking for wildlife and assessing the quality of habitats they lived in. As with many wildlife-related jobs, it’s about the people. What I saw was inspiring…lots of families dedicated to making a living and serving their community through sustainable land-use regardless of political or religious background or for that matter, stereotype.

So, back to the kicking and screaming… The entire time I was getting paid to drive around beautiful areas, go camping, and then come back to small apartment (i.e. my home and office) to complete reports, I was contemplating my next move when the contract ended. Finally, after lots of networking discussions with amazing colleagues, a friend approached me about embracing the opportunity (instead of running from it) to run my own business. My friend, Tim, even set me up with some books to read, and after I finished one he would recommend another until I got to the point where I started going down the rabbit hole of seemingly unlimited books and podcasts.

After my contract ended, I was fully focused on building a brand that centered around the value of nature. It was amazing! I was inspired and energized! I knew exactly what was needed and how I could contribute to our field! Except there was one critical thing…I didn’t have the next contract quite yet. So, I took a job with one of my best friends, Kevin, which was away from wildlife and biology professions, but that allowed me time to focus on building what I needed to. Working for Kevin wasn’t easy due to the work involved, but I viewed it as a boot camp of sorts for dedicating myself to hard work.

During this time, I got up at 4 am every day and worked until 10 pm each night. Over the winter, I worked for 12 hours on Saturdays and only took time on Sundays to get groceries and take care of personal matters. Soon enough, I got a contract to do rattlesnake telemetry for a local agency and then a contract to survey wildlife at some of our state parks. I was still working for Kevin all this time, but also doing fieldwork, completing reports, and looking for the next opportunity. At this point, it’s important to add that Kevin, Bryon, Tom, and too many others to name had spent many hours volunteering in the field to help me complete projects and make my business successful – this still occurs today and I attribute all of the business’s success to our employees and volunteers.

Eventually, work started to roll in more regularly and unlike my first contract, I felt the work better matched my ethics. Along the way, another friend of mine gave me an opportunity to bid on projects for an energy company needing wildlife compliance surveys on federally managed lands. This work led to a great relationship with our client’s project manager, Brian. As it turns out, Brian had a job to do but was eager to make sure that his company did the appropriate work and fulfilled its responsibility to the federal agency. (We often hear stories in mainstream media about big-bad energy companies, but this wasn’t Brian or his company. In fact, since that first job, we collaborated to pull-off some of the most meaningful conservation and management projects for sensitive species our company has ever been a part of.)

Our company Adaptation Environmental Services is true to its name – we adapt quickly to find the best way to accomplish our clients’ projects, and regardless of previously acceptable approaches or traditions. In a field where nearly all wildlife funding supports hunting and fishing (of which I am proud to participate in), we’re finding new ways and partners to gather information to help manage and conserve nongame wildlife (or most of the wildlife that is not sought for hunting and fishing).

Has it been a smooth road?
The journey on the road to success (so far) has been appropriately smooth and rough. On my journey, I’ve been able to work for amazing and inspiring clients as well as with staff and volunteers. This is our day-to-day and I couldn’t be more grateful for this. In the making of Adaptation, friends were/are everything! I learned that friends help you build at critical points and in parts of the development process. I’m lucky to have all my friends who helped me, even in minor roles, start this.

However, yes there were struggles along the way. Obviously juggling a start-up business and working full time for Kevin was tough, but I had support from him and others. One lesson I learned is that ego can be detrimental to partnerships. The struggles centered around communication with partners, and the changing dynamics that come within working with friends. However, through it all, I realized that I am a tremendous idea-generator and visionary, and even more-so a good person. Of course, I have a ton of flaws, but in that moment I reflected enough to see my value and role in leading our team’s efforts.

The Game-Changer – Kelly arrived in CO after working as a wildlife biologist and educator in the west and most recently back east. Her skill-set complemented my own, however, she was excellent at refining my ideas to make them a reality. Adaptation’s projects and products went to another level, and we had considerable growth. With this, we had more projects and better management of them. We hired Norma and Sean and maintained a wonderful, experienced group of volunteers. Without Kelly, our growth would’ve continued and we would’ve eventually gotten more organized, but Adaptation wouldn’t be at the level we’re at today. Oh, and by the way, we’re getting married next year.

Please tell us about Adaptation Environmental Services.
We conduct research and surveys for agencies and private industry relating to wildlife and habitat conservation and management, provide rattlesnake removal services for homeowners and businesses, and design and conduct training courses for wildlife safety around the nation.

At Adaptation, we think differently than others. We take our role as a business seriously and look for ways to assist agencies with their objectives in novel ways, as needed, as well as meet private clients’ needs appropriately. For example with agencies, we look at what they do, how they serve the public, and what they need. Local agencies on the Front Range make huge impacts like protecting sensitive plants, wildlife, and their habitats. We’re working with agencies specifically to research how rattlesnakes use the lands they manage. It’s dumb to say, “the only good snake is a dead snake”, and our agency partners get it. That said, it’s a careful balance keeping the public and their pets safe and to protect an important resource like rattlesnakes that save many more human lives than they take. Additionally, we provide training courses to organizations needing venomous snake safety around the country. Our team has extensive backgrounds in zoos and field research, and thus we feel a responsibility to share this knowledge to help our colleagues address venomous snake issues safely.

As for private clients, we spend time listening to their concerns and stories about wildlife. With companies, this may mean helping to explain agency regulations, how to be compliant with regulations, and the status and biology of rare species. With homeowners, we continue our work with rattlesnake safety in teaching them about effective barriers, removal options, and reducing areas (e.g. piles of debris, wood, or supplies) on their property that may attract rodents and snakes. Overall, our job is teaching in a way that removes scientific jargon and making wildlife issues relatable to everyone. We want everyone we work for and with to be environmental experts capable of informed decisions independent of our own beliefs – but we do hope they value nature as much as we do.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Denver is certainly an evolving and expanding market. Adaptation sees a need in our area to help homeowners and businesses with avoiding and mitigating wildlife conflicts, especially rattlesnakes. As more people come to the state, new development occurs in natural environments where wildlife lives. We are the best suited to help homeowners, agencies, and businesses deal with this.

For someone starting out, I would recommend doing your research – is there a need for what you do, are there others addressing this need, and can you afford to begin a start-up here and live here?

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
AES staff

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